A letter to Assam finance and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma purportedly sent by a Baksa foreigners tribunal member on April 7 with a rider not to use donations to fight the Covid-19 pandemic to help “members of violators Tablighi Jamaat, jehadi and jahil”, has resulted in Dispur showcausing him and 14 other tribunal members.
They have been directed to respond by May 8 “without fail”, according to the showcause issued by the political (B) department on April 30. This is the section of the home and political department that deals with the appointment of FT members. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal holds the home portfolio.
The letter, purportedly signed by Baksa tribunal member Kamalesh Kumar Gupta, enlists contributions to the tune Rs 65,999 by 18 members and employees of various FTs from lower Assam’s Baksa, Barpeta and Kamrup, Silchar in Barak Valley and Morigaon in central Assam. The names of 14 FT members/attached members and three staffers were mentioned as contributors in the letter, which triggered demands for action against Gupta.
The letter, which started doing the rounds of social media on April 11, concludes with an appeal: “Our only prayer is that the help may not be extended to the members of Violators Tablighi Jamaat, jehadis and jahil.”
Retired judges, administrative officers and lawyers with at least seven years of legal practice qualify to be members of the quasi-judicial FTs that decide the fate of people suspected to be illegal immigrants.
Home department deputy secretary N.D. Patowary said the showcause was based on an FIR filed by the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union on April 11 against Gupta’s “communal” letter and some local newspaper reports on the letter.
A joint showcause was sent to the 14 FT members, while a separate showcause was sent to Gupta, he said.
“Objection has been made to a line in the said letter that reads ‘help may not be extended to the members of violators Tablighi Jamaat, jehadi and jahil’. Such an act is unbecoming of a responsible FT member, since it may lead to communal disharmony,” the notice said.
“You are hereby directed to show cause as to why you should not face disciplinary action for this act of yours. Your explanation must reach this department on or before 08.05.2020 without fail,” the notice added.
“The contents of the notice sent to Gupta is almost the same as that of the notice served to 14 other tribunal members. As Gupta wrote the letter, so it was sent separately,” the official said.
Barpeta Congress MP Abdul Khaleque had on April 16 written to Sonowal demanding termination of Gupta’s membership for writing a “highly communal and Islamophobic letter” to Sarma.
An FT official here said it was a sheer violation of the model code of conduct of a judicial officer or an equivalent to pass such an appeal. “Gauhati High Court will certainly take note of the matter and initiate action against the errant officials/staff. The state government also has the power to take action against such officials,” he said.
Efforts to contact Gupta proved futile as he did not reply to text messages and diverted calls.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Ahmed
The appeal by Gupta came in the wake of the fact that most Covid-19 patients in Assam (42) have turned out to be returnees of the religious congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi in March, one of the hotspots.
The Coordination Committee Against Citizenship Amendment Act, led by intellectual Hiren Gohain, had also demanded immediate suspension of Gupta for the statement.
It had also alleged Gupta of indirectly moving the minister for a salary hike which is another violation of protocol of a government official. Gupta had purportedly written in the forwarding letter that salaries of FT members were not increased since 2015.